Return to the clickable list of items

189) Summary of my CF research

Ludwik Kowalski (November 26, 2004)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

My cold fusion investigations, reflected on these webpages, started during the sabbatical year of 2002/2003. It was essentially a literature research project on the topic that I had believed to be pseudoscientific for about ten years. After changing that attitude, on the basis of what I read, I started looking for a simple cold fusion experiment that could be performed by teachers like myself, and by their students.

The first attempt in that direction -- working for one week with H. Fox and A. Jin in Salt Lake City -- was a failure. What we discovered was a poor interpretation of experimental results from an earlier investigation (see units #44 and #45).

The second attempt was a visit to Provo, also in Utah, to talk with S. Jones at Brigham Young University. That was after I met Jones at the 10th cold fusion conference (August 2003), and after I heard his report (see unit #113). The visit led to my investigation of a Ti foil impregnated with deuterium. The sample was sent to me by Jones; it was made by keeping the titanium foil in deuterium gas at high temperature and pressure. We wanted to see if the 3 MeV protons, discovered by Jones, can also be observed by using a CR-39 detector. That approach would be more suitable for a student-oriented project than using sophisticated electronic detectors.

The result of my study confirmed Jones’ observations but they were not as spectacular as the results from the investigation of another foil (see the description starting in next paragraph). The number of tracks counted on the face of the CR-39 detector that was applied to Jones’ foil (for 55 days) turned out to be 225 The opposite side of the same CR-39 detector (exposed to air) was used to count tracks due to our background. That number of background tracks turned out to be 132. The size of the CR-39 detector was one square inch.

The third attempt to observe “a nuclear signature” in cold fusion was my collaboration with D. Letts, as described in units #182, #183 and #184, at this website. Once again, I used CR-39 detectors (see item #185 on this website). Three palladium cathodes (used in electrochemical cells) were sent to me: Pd613, Pd616 and Pd615. The first one was from a cell that produced a very high amount of excess heat, the second was from the cell that produced significantly less excess heat and the third was from the cell that failed to produced excess heat. Without knowing anything about thermal histories of these cathodes I found a huge number of tracks due to Pd613, much less tracks due to Pd616 and only background tracks due to Pd615.

I was subsequently informed all three cathodes were cut from the same Pd foil, and that the electrolyte used in all three cells was prepared at the same time. But a tiny amount of the so-called “sauce #1” was later added to the cell containing the Pd613 cathode. The X-ray fluorescent analysis of the sauce revealed presence of uranium. (Dennis Lets wrote: “The additive I used on cathode #613 was Cravens sauce #1. This is the same additive titled "Pixie Dust" on the analysis done by Scott Little showing small amounts of Uranium.”) Be aware that no sauce #1 was added to the electrolytes used in the other two cells. I asked Dennis to send me a sample of the souse. He did and I dried it under a lamp. Then a CR-39 detector was applied to the thick dark spot of what was left after the liquid has evaporated. After three weeks that detector revealed a huge number of tracks. A test for the contamination of the Pd613 cathode itself consisted of its reexamination after three weeks. The number of tracks observed, in the cluster of highest density, was essentially the same as three weeks earlier. In other words, an attempt to rule out the contamination failed. (I would be able to say that there were no uranium contamination if the track density decreased significantly in three weeks. But this did not happen.)

Facing this situation I decided to ignore the Pd613 data, for the time being, and use the data from the Pd616 and Pd615 cathodes. No sauce #1 was added to the electrolyte when these two cathodes were used in the excess heat experiments. The Pd615 provided an ideal control sample; it was treated in exactly the same way as Pd616 but failed to generate excess heat. A very large difference between the track densities from the Pd616 and Pd615 was a strong indication that an unexpected nuclear effect is indeed associated with generation of heat in Letts experiments.

I think that excess heat demonstartions, designed to convince that something highly unusual (cold fusion) is taking place, should always be accompanied by attempts to display nuclear signatures. That what I wrote to Letts when I asked him for a chance to examine a cathode. After all, there are many ways to get more heat out than heat in, especially at the power level below one watt. A complete examination of all chemical processes taking place in a setup (to convince that the excess heat is not chemical) is much more demanding that using a nuclear detector of some kind. Cold fusion effects, if they are nuclear, must generate nuclear reaction products, either radiaoactive or stable. Nobody argues with this expectation. Scott Little, from Letts’ team, wrote to me that they will start using CR-39 detectors. I expect them to apply CR-39 to each cathode as soon as the electrolysis is finished (not much later, as I did). Will they observe a decrease in track densities after subsequent reexaminations of a removed cathode, for example, once every two week? That remains to be seen. The team plans on announcing the results of their recent findings at the end of this year.

Let me now return to the cathode #613. The CR-39 detector applied to the cathode for the second time, three weeks after the end of the first exposure, showed no significant decrease in the track density. I consider this to be a failure to rule out the effect of uranium contamination. But this does not prove that contamination was responsible for most of the observed tracks. It is not apriori evedent that a two or three drops of souce #1, in which concentration of uranium was very low, could produce (after being diluted in the electrolyte) as many tracks as was actually observed. A good way to test for the uranium contamination would be to replace the CR-39 detector with an electronic detector able to identify particles (are they alpha particles or not?) and able to determine their energies (are the uranium-chain peaks observed or not?) Let me now focus on two experimental facts that are not consistent with the idea of contamination.

(a) The electrolytic cell had a nearly axial symmetry. It was a round beaker with a small cathode (about one square centimeter) suspended at the center. The anode was a spiral platinum wire surrounding the cathode. The radius of the spiral, as far as I could determined from a photograph emailed to me, was about three centimeters. The only asymmetry was introduced by the laser beam; one side of the cathode was exposed to that low energy beam during the excess heat experiment while the other side was not. The laser beam was expected to trigger the mysterious excess heat phenomenon.

(b) If the tracks from particles emerging from the Pd613 cathode were due to uranium dissolved in the electrolyte then the track density would be essentially the same on both sides of the Pd613. In reality, however, the number of tracks on the CR-39 detector applied to one side of the cathode was very much higher than on the detector applied to the other side of the cathode. Furthermore, the track density (on the side of the cathode that was more active than the other) was very nonuniform. I suspect that the observed cluster (of maximum track concentration) coincides with the spot at which the laser beam was intercepted by the cathode. It would be interesting to know if that suspicion is confirmed by Letts’ team. On the other hand, I am aware that, at least in principle, uranium (from the uniformly dissolved sauce) could prefer to migrate to one particular spot on the surface of the cathode.

My fourth attempt to find a student-oriented experiment showing that a nuclear process can be caused by a chemical process was the most successful. It was described in the unit#188 on this website. The experiment is simple and relatively inexpensive; the total cost of materials to build a cell should not exceed $200. I will have more to say about this experiment after trying to replicate it in our laboratory at Montclair State University. A task of trying to prove, or disprove, a controversial claim made by a reputable scientist can be turned into an educational project. What can be a better way to expose students to the excitement of scientific research? That is why I am trying to convince teachers that Oriani’s experiments are worth replicating. Please read my unit #188 and try to replicate the experiment. Then share your results. I would be happy to write about your findings in another unit, perhaps before the end of the current school year.

Return to the clickable list of items